International Scientific Conference II - January, 2001
January 2001 Scientific Conference
On January 20th and 21st, 2001, Maximum Life Foundation held its second conference to spark the emerging field of anti-aging medicine or "interventive gerontology". This invitation-only meeting was focused on generating strategies to develop and commercialize clinical applications of current technologies to the human aging process. To this end, the Foundation asked the participants to critique the first draft of a document intended to be used to raise funds for a proposed interventive gerontology business incubator.
Participants represented a cross section of the key fields that will play a role in developing interventions in human aging. They include academic scientists, biotechnology industry professionals, clinicians and theoreticians with a keen interest in aging research.
The following is a list of the attendees:
Over the two days of the conference, we probed methods to accelerate the transition from basic research to practical applications in this field. We discussed recent advances in understanding the basic mechanisms of aging. We addressed the needs of researchers seeking to apply current knowledge of gerontology to affecting the health span of human subjects. We also discussed a plan to eventually fulfill these needs with an aging biotechnology incubator to manage, fund, and support commercializing anti-senescence technologies.
The most striking result of the conference was realizing the industry does not yet exist. There are scientists studying the diseases commonly associated with aging (Alzheimer's, heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, etc) and there are those researching aging's basic underlying mechanisms. Unfortunately, these veins of research are viewed as separate from one another. This has been a factor inhibiting the development of a global approach to aging interventions. Creating opportunities to mingle these compartmentalized ideas was a critical function of this conference.
Since most aging research conferences are meetings of the "My Pet Theory on Aging Club", there is an incestuous strengthening of similar hypotheses. To hasten practical applications of existing technologies that could lengthen the health span, we attempted to integrate differing perspectives from other fields and broaden our range of thinking. Other conferences, such as the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence meeting (October 2000) and the Future Milestones in Biomedical Gerontology Symposium (February 1999) have attempted to do just this.
During the conference, it was suggested that one of the key functions of meetings such as this should be to devise experiments that would provide a razor of truth or falsehood to dissect the most prominent theories of aging related damage. It was obvious that, among the forerunners in this field, there is a certain level of frustration at the current pace of research. And there is a wide variety of ideas on how to most efficiently proceed to clinical intervention. Attendees suggested a shortage of good experimental design and the shortage of funding to carry out these research strategies are the two critical roadblocks to progress on developing treatments.
One of the most heated debates at the conference was on defining aging and the viewpoint that senescence can be considered a disease. There was a consensus among participants that aging is alterable, but there were multiple perspectives on how aging should be viewed.
The discussion centered on the semantic definition of disease and whether aging could fall into this definition. It was suggested that, regardless of the accuracy of such a definition, it is possible the value of placing aging in the same category as heart disease and Alzheimer's disease will be that it will bring it into the realm of the treatable. Participants expressed this may result in refocusing funding and scientific effort towards clinical treatment of the fundamental mechanisms of aging. They also cautioned there is a strong resistance among the scientific community and general public to view aging as a deisease.
Another prominent topic was the creation of a commercial aging biotechnology center to act as a coordinating hub for aging research. At the Maximum Life Conference in June 2000, attendees first suggested this concept. This organizational tool would be a biotech incubator that would provide fund raising and managerial services for startup companies specifically dedicated to pursuing aging research. The Maximum Life Foundation is currently funding a five-month study to determine the most effective business model to bring this project to reality.
Many of the conference participants are in the process of developing commercial ventures. They agree nothing will accelerate the pace of this research faster than a product that demonstrates intervention in the aging process as both possible and personal for the public. The goal of the incubator will be to nurture companies pursuing this strategy.
Critical Need for Funding
The lynch pin issue of the conference was, in order to make any headway an infusion of funding is needed to drive the field forward. Participants pointed out Maximum Life Foundation's greatest contribution would be to raise early-stage funding. It was argued that the sources of expanded funding available to researchers, both public and private, will come when this field is viewed as being capable of producing practical, consumer-targeted results and researchers have defined strategies to achieve them.
With this meeting, it became apparent there is an emerging group of researchers who would like to change the current method of operation of the aging research community. These scientists propose focus be placed more on what we can do, rather that what we have yet to discover. While there is still a wealth of unanswered questions about the mechanisms of aging, it is not necessary to have all the answers before we try to produce interventions.
We are now entering a time when it is possible to speak seriously of developing technologies that allow for alterations of the human aging process. This is due to the rapid increase in the rate of scientific discovery produced by expanding communication capabilities and the automation of the data collection process. One goal of the Maximum Life Foundation is to focus this increasing knowledge of the biological basis of aging and develop it into a prosperous interventive gerontology industry.Back to Top